10 cents a week. A penny to charity. A penny to university. A penny to gifts. 7 cents to spend as I pleased.
That was my allowance at the age of 6. In principle, a good idea. Teach me the value of a penny, teach me to save, teach me to give, teach me to choose how to spend limited resources. The 10% rule. 10% to yourself. 10% tithed. 10% for long-term. Only spend 60% of what you earned.
There wasn’t much money then.
The reality. $.01/wk=$.52/year x 12 years (to get me to 18)= $624, which would have paid for, as I think about it, one year’s tuition at the time I was ready to go to university.
I remember discussions about spending 25 cents a week on the Boston Sunday Herald. I remember we bought a white tinsel Christmas tree at 50% off after Christmas one year. We made do, but we also didn’t know any different, so it wasn’t a big deal.
We had to buy our summer frozen treats from the freezer. Mom made them and we had to pay for them. As a young, enthusiastic photographer at age 6, I had to buy my film and pay for my own developing (this made me a careful photographer.)
When I started taking piano lessons, and there was a little more money, I had the best (and about the most expensive) teacher available. We travelled every summer—camping from the age of 13 months, to each side of the country, to Great Britain and Scotland, to Europe. Membership in a tennis club, art lessons. But I made my own clothes, planning out each season what I ‘needed’ and finding or making the missing skirt or shirt.
I learned a lot about money then. When we travelled overseas I remember having about $100 to spend. I tracked my spending—each postcard, each doll dressed in the country’s costume, each stamp on postcards and airmail letters, each sticker for my guitar case.
My parents never told us explicitly what they were trying to teach us, but these are some of the ideas I’ve carried around about money for a long time.
- can’t afford it
- it’s not practical—therefore you don’t need it
- you don’t need it
- it’s too expensive which meant we don’t need it and it isn’t necessary
- you don’t need what everyone else has just because they have it
I also learned:
- material things aren’t important
- buy quality, but not quantity (the expensive teak furniture we bought when I was in high school—now called “mid-century Scandinavian”— we still have)
- experience—travel, for instance, or concerts, lessons, theatre— is better than things
- if it’s not necessary, it’s not needed, therefore it’s not worth it
- make do, compromise, if there’s a cheaper way and it’s just about as good… do that.
- you don’t need much.
- wanting without need is wasteful
- you don’t need crippy crap
Really, it was about taking the middle path, which permeated our lives in many areas. Have what you need. Don’t go overboard. You don’t need very much. Simple is good. Quality is good. Quantity is bad.
I learned about long-term saving. Waaaaayyy long-term. What does ‘university’ mean to a 6-year-old? What about charity? Both were vague concepts. I put the pennies aside because that’s just what I did. I wasn’t aware of charities I could donate to and after grade 1 I didn’t go to church, so you know, I have no idea what happened to either of those little plans.
But what I didn’t learn:
- how to save for something in the mid-term, something I wanted. Because, of course, wants aren’t important.
- how to want something— something of value, something of quality—and save for it.
- how to budget in the short and medium term
Mixed. And while I won’t go into personal details, a residual layer of these learnings and non-learnings colours—or discolours— my relationship with money. The relationship, although it has steadily improved over the years, it’s still a dysfunctional one. One that will require a warrior-like determination to conquer this particular head of the Hydra.
It is time for the Money Monkey on my back to permanently. This is my Herculean quest.